VUB research exposes silence on structural racism

VUB research exposes silence on structural racism

Belgian and German policy texts frame ethno-racial inequalities as individual shortcomings

VUB research has shown that Belgian and German policy texts often present ethno-racial inequalities in education and on the labour market as individual shortcomings of migrants and minorities themselves, such as insufficient language skills or a lack of the appropriate qualifications. Dr Laura Westerveen: “The policy discourse pays little attention to structural causes of ethno-racial inequality such as structural racism. This is the kind of racism that, regardless of the intentions of individuals, is present in our economic, political and educational systems and can affect the opportunities of migrants and minorities in society. By focusing on individual deficits, the government shifts the responsibility for inequalities to migrant and minority groups themselves.”

Migrants and minorities continue to face inequalities in European societies, for example in education and on the labour market. In her doctoral research led by Professor Dr Ilke Adam, Laura Westerveen of the VUB Institute for European Studies studied how the gap in educational and labour market performance between people with and without a migration background is addressed in Belgian and German policies.

To this purpose, Westerveen identified dominant policy frames in 176 official policy plans in the period 2000 to 2017 in the field of education and employment of the various federal and regional authorities in Belgium and Germany. She examined what is mentioned as the cause of ethno-racial inequality in education and on the labour market, and what solutions are proposed, but also whose responsibility it is considered to be.

The research shows that it is mainly individual deficits of migrants and minorities, such as insufficient language skills or a lack of the appropriate qualifications, that are seen as the cause of ethno-racial inequality. More structural causes, such as racism and discrimination, are almost entirely overlooked. This framing is also reflected in the proposed policy solutions. Here, too, the focus is on language classes and individual competences, and hardly on concrete anti-discrimination measures such as situation testing or positive actions. Westerveen: “Presumably the neoliberal tendency in Europe plays a role in this, in which many essentially structural problems are reduced to individual problems, which are then linked to migration background.”

Policy differences in Flanders, Wallonia, Germany

According to Westerveen, there are some differences between the discourses of the different authorities: “The biggest difference can be found within the Belgian case. The Flemish discourse points above all to language deficits of people with a migration background. In Francophone Belgium, on the other hand, there is a colour-blind discourse that emphasises socio-economic inequality instead of ethno-racial inequality. While the Belgian federal government also seems to pay some attention to labour market discrimination as a cause of ethno-racial inequality in its policy discourse, this is much less the case in the discourse of the German federal government.”


Laura Westerveen

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